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Meet our Female Frontier honorees: Debbi Vandeven

VMLY&R’s global chief creative officer discusses gender diversity in the industry and the best creative she’s seen during COVID-19.

How did you feel when you saw your name on Campaign’s Female Frontier list? 

Surprised and honored to be among the other Female Frontier leaders in the industry.

Sum up your journey to where you are now in fewer than five words? 

Happy, but never finished.

What are three qualities women need to be successful and achieve longevity in the creative industries? 

Empathy, motivation and confidence — good qualities for any successful leader!

Why were only three of the 87 Super Bowl 2021 ads directed by women? 

Good question. How many women were creative leads of the spots? And how many clients asked for more diverse talent in front of and behind the camera?

What needs to happen to make the industry truly gender diverse? 

I have been in the field for more than 20 years and it is getting better, but continued action from agency leaders and client asks is vital to keep momentum in the industry when it comes to more diversity of teams — in gender and beyond.

What advice would you give young women entering the industry? 

Raise your hand, be heard and stick with it. The creative field is tough, and you have to love it to put your ideas out there and be judged over and over. But if you do, you can truly impact culture and help change perceptions, which is pretty amazing.

Any tips for success you'd like to share? 

Well, it may seem small, but you really have to love what you do. We all have good days and bad. With more years of experience, I learned not to sweat the small things. My team and I often remember the phrase “best job I ever had.” Bonus if you know what movie it is from!

How does the culture at your organization help you thrive? 

At VMLY&R, our culture drives the company. If you care about the people you work with and are happy with those around you and your company’s values, then you do better work. You can’t have great work and a bad culture — at least not for long.

Worst thing about the crazy last year? 

Not seeing co-workers in person and more stress than normal. Creativity suffered because of it.

Any silver linings? 

Our global collaboration has increased dramatically because of video conferencing.

Best use of creativity you’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

I think one of the most creative pieces was Satan’s romance with 2020 in the work by Ryan Reynolds and Maximum Effort. It was a great way to end the year — we all needed a laugh!

Purpose in business: A flash in the pan or the fundamental basis for the future? 

Fundamental basis for the future!

If we took your team out for a drink, how would they describe you? 

I have no idea, but if they are drinking, I am sure it would be fun! 

Describe one piece of work you produced in the past 12 months that excites you. 

Our teams produced a lot of great work, but I am personally excited about reinventing the Intel brand. We reimagined the visual identity along with a new brand platform: Intel, Do something wonderful. And I think you will agree, we all want to do something wonderful!

Who's your biggest inspiration? And why? 

I am inspired by so many, such as my longtime friend and partner Jon Cook, VMLY&R CEO, because he is always optimistic. But this year, and for the rest of my life, I don’t think I will ever be inspired by anyone more than my youngest daughter. She was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer in 2020 and she is the strongest, most inspirational influence in my life. Years like this past one make you realize what’s most important.


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